Changing the way we talk about women in business

The business world can be a scary place. I wouldn’t know much about it, because I have rarely stepped foot into JMSB (unless I really had to pee).

The shiny interior and clean glass windows intimidate me. How can you keep the windows so clean, like dude, it’s downtown Montreal.

I have always been an “Arts kid.” Math, finance and economics are intimidating words that I don’t really understand. Although my dad has explained the stock market about 600 times to me, I still don’t get it. Anyways, what I lack in knowledge of numbers, I hope I have gained in communication and critical thinking. These tools have helped me understand the social world and contextualize my experiences.

The other day, I was having a conversation with a friend in JMSB. She expressed her concerns about how the school approaches gender differences in business. Quite like myself, she has a background in psychology, meaning gender differences and bias were no foreign concept. In psychology, we learn about the social construction of gender as well as biological differences. She explained that in business, her teachers often address gender differences with slides that proclaim “women are less direct and men dominate the conversation” without further explanation. This lack of context, explanation and acknowledgement of the trend as a stereotype is not only dangerous, it is enabling the behaviour. With my friend’s arts background, she can contextualize these factors and understands not to take them at face value. As she sits in the class, she wonders how many people around her understand not only that the gender differences exist, but why.

I have spent a lot of my degree attempting to understand the “why.” This is something that I often take for granted; I didn’t know any of this stuff before. For a lot of these business students, they won’t understand the “why” until they are taught. I have learned about toxic masculinity, social constructions of gender and what these concepts do to our behaviour. We cannot keep blaming the business world for not understanding why these gender discrepancies exist if the curriculum consistently lacks the tools to help.

No one is saying that men and women are not different. The gender differences that show up in the business world are real—but they are real because they are perpetuated by society, and not because they are inherently real. That is the issue with how these topics are being presented.

Let’s go over the stereotypes that usually follow women in business. According to The Harvard Business Review, “One set of assumed differences is marshalled to explain women’s failure to achieve parity with men: women negotiate poorly, lack confidence, are too risk-averse, or don’t put in the requisite hours at work because they value family more than their careers.” With these stereotypes usually follows, “women are more caring, cooperative, or mission-driven—are used as a rationale for companies to invest in women’s success.”

All this to say, these characteristics, when presented as rigid facts, help solidify the gender discrepancies in business. As a woman in business, learning about how you differ from men, without breaking down exactly why this happens, can be quite damaging. This is not something to be taken at face value. There is a social responsibility for unpacking gender differences.

I am in no way saying that it is more beneficial to get an arts degree. Heck—I probably won’t find a job once I graduate (let’s not go there), but what I am saying is that there are aspects of an arts degree that should be universally taught. Kind of like how I should know more about finance—and learn how to do my taxes. 


Graphic by @sundaeghost


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